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The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)

The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence)

by William Blake

Religion Theme

An angel appears in Tom's dream in the form of a savior who releases the chimney sweepers from their coffins, and tells Tom that if he's a good boy God will love him. It seems like the angel is telling Tom to do his job. Does that mean that, in "The Chimney Sweeper," religion, in a way, participates in the exploitation of children? In a word, yes. Blake uses Tom Dacre's sad, beautiful dream to demonstrate how these boys' religious beliefs keep them contained in their dreadful lifestyle, rather than allow them to rise above it.

Questions About Religion

  1. What's up with this angel? Is he unquestionably good in this poem? Is he deceiving Tom Dacre by allowing him to believe there's a light at the end of the tunnel?
  2. Is the angel the only one who can open the coffins? Is there any way the boys could open their own coffins? What would that mean?
  3. Is the angel serious when he tells Tom how to earn God's love? Does that make you trust the angel? Or is your trust shaken by his words?
  4. What role does religion play in these chimney sweepers' lives?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

"The Chimney Sweeper" suggests that religion sometimes contributes to child suffering, because the angel straight up tells Tom to work hard at his awful job so he can earn God's love. Does that sound fair to you?

The most important religious moment—the angel unlocking the coffins—happens in a dream, which tells us that there's something unreal or totally fantastical about these boys' religious beliefs.

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